When Cynthia Cooper-Dyke was named the head coach for the USC women’s basketball team in April, she brought with her a promise to bring back a winning tradition to the program, similar to the one present when she played for the Women of Troy.
“For us, we are trying to develop a culture of winning and it starts with having that great level of work ethic,” Cooper-Dyke said. “We are starting to put in those pieces of the puzzle right now and we believe that it will translate into developing a winning mentality and putting some Ws up on the board.”
And Cooper-Dyke is not the only one. Athletic Director Pat Haden has said that the women’s basketball program has a long history of national championships. Yet Haden acknowledged that in recent years it has failed to live up to its history under the direction of former Lakers player Michael Cooper.
During Cooper’s four years as head coach, the Women of Troy had a 72-57 record, or an average winning percentage of .558, and he never led his team to the NCAA Tournament. Though Cooper led the team to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament title game in 2011, it failed to secure a title after losing to Toledo. Furthermore, after high early season expectations in the 2010-2013 seasons, the Women of Troy did not qualify for postseason play.
In fact, the last time Women of Troy reached the NCAA Tournament was in 2006, when the team went 18-11 before being knocked out in the second round of the tournament.
Cooper resigned after the team finished with a dismal 11-20 record, and 7-11 in the Pac-12, in the 2013 season. Cooper’s resignation led Haden to search for his new coach, who could return the program to its promised land — the NCAA Tournament.
By selecting former USC great Cooper-Dyke in April, he brought home an integral player who helped lead the Women of Troy to consecutive national championships during the 1983 and 1984 seasons. Cooper-Dyke, 49, looks to restore the program to its winning tradition and lay the foundation for a nationally renowned women’s basketball powerhouse.
“It’s going to be about changing the mentality into a winning one,” Cooper-Dyke said about transforming the program. “What I mean about turning it into a winning mentality is really changing the way we focus, the way we practice, adding more intensity and investing a great amount of energy in becoming the best, not only as a better team but as better individuals and players.”
Cooper-Dyke has acquired several accolades since playing as a Trojan. As a two-time WNBA MVP, four-time WNBA champion and the first WNBA player to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, Cooper-Dyke’s extensive professional experience helps her to relate with and establish a connection with her players.
“Players react differently to me as a coach because I was a player in the sport and the league that they want to be in,” Cooper-Dyke said. “In other words, I didn’t play in the NBA — I played in the WNBA. I feel that this makes a difference because the players can now relate a little bit more to me.”
Cooper has already demonstrated her influential coaching style during team practice and workouts.
“She’s really easy to talk to and is very open,” sophomore guard Brianna Barrett said. “She’s also a teaching coach, so if we had any questions, she stopped and helped us get through what we wanted to get through.”
Senior forward Cassie Harberts said Cooper’s and her similar paths have created a positive connection with her coach.
“She has a great sense of humor, has tons of energy and also is an alumna … so it is really easy to relate with her,” Harberts said. “She is so passionate and literally bleeds cardinal and gold.”
As Cooper-Dyke takes the lead in redirecting the women’s basketball program this coming season, she has already expressed her high expectations, goals that previously have seemed unattainable in past seasons.
“The team goal is always to win, but ultimately we want to win the Pac-12 conference and return to the NCAA Tournament,” Cooper-Dyke said. “We just have to be willing to put in the hard work that it takes to make that jump.”
While men’s head coach Andy Enfield, who is also in his first season at USC, looks to bring “Dunk City” to the Galen Center, Cooper-Dyke believes her team will be entertaining to watch.
“I would like us to play a style of basketball that is fun to watch and fun to play,” Cooper-Dyke said. “I don’t want us to get bogged down in the half-court set, and want us to get out in transition and go up and down the court.”
Ultimately, though, the only way Cooper-Dyke will be able to turn the program around is by landing big-time recruits. She believes that along with her assistant coaches, she can recruit more top-ranking players by emphasizing USC’s positive attributes.
“We have a wonderful arena to play in,” Cooper-Dyke said when referring to the Galen Center, “and we have top-notch academic services and training facilities, and now we just need the top-notch athletes who know that the greatest way to become a star in the NCAA and to leave a legacy is to really be the name and face that turned a program around.”
Cooper-Dyke has already picked up two transfers this season — junior forward Kaneisha Horn from Alabama and sophomore guard Alexis Lloyd from Virginia Tech.
At the end of the day, Cooper-Dyke was hired to redevelop the foundation of the USC women’s basketball program. Though she is already attracting top-notch recruits and gaining popularity with her players, she seeks to continue these positive strides by winning basketball games and returning the women’s basketball team to the promised land.
Follow Darian on Twitter @dariannourian24